One of my minor obsessions at this time of year is the Iditarod sled dog race. Early on Wednesday morning last week, 31-year-old Pete Kaiser and his dogs won this year’s race, crossing the finish line in Nome, Alaska after 9 days, 12 hours, 39 minutes, and 6 seconds on the trail. Kaiser beat defending champion Joar Leifseth Olsom by 12 minutes.
As some of you know, I used to live in Nome and covered the Iditarod. Part of my fixation with the race comes from its sheer otherness: the idea of mushing a dog team across a thousand miles of Alaska wilderness, over two mountain ranges, down a stretch of very long river, and along an icy coast is foreign to everything I know and experience.
This year there was one aspect of the race that spoke to me in a deep way. Kaiser, a first-time champion, grew up in the small town of Bethel, Alaska, an Alaska Native community far from anywhere. When it became clear that Kaiser was likely to win, loads of people from Bethel hopped on a plane—there are no roads in this part of Alaska—and flew to Nome to greet him when he crossed the finish line at 3.39am. The sense of pride in one of their own was overwhelming. In fact, so proud were they, everyone from Bethel gathered at the finish line with Kaiser and his family for a picture. (You can see it online.) Because I know something of small-town Alaska, the emotions in this picture were clear. On everyone’s beaming faces, you can see written the truth, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
The word that sprang to mind as I looked at that picture was baptism. At every baptismal service, the Christian community pledges to support and uphold the people being baptized, to see that they are raised in the faith and mature as God’s children. I know this because at so many points in my life, there have been so many people who have supported me in my faith and set me on the path I am. We’ve never all stopped to gather for a picture—perhaps we should—but I have felt wrapped in their embrace and their pride nonetheless. What the people of Bethel were doing in celebrating one of their own offers a model for what Christian communities are to do and be in relation to one another.
I found myself looking at this picture and substituting in the faces of the saints—living and dead—who have stood by me for so long. I hope that you can do the same and give thanks for the witness of so many who have brought us to where we are—and can’t wait to see where the path is taking us next.
This message was written by College Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.